U.S.Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water Office ofGround Water and Drinking Water 


Treatment Technologies: Removal


In water, the most common valence states of arsenic are As(V), or arsenate, which is more prevalent in aerobic surface waters and As(III), or arsenite, which is more likely to occur in anaerobic ground waters. In the pH range of 4 to 10, the predominant As (III) compound is neutral in charge, while the As (V) species are negatively charged. Removal efficiencies for As(III) are poor compared to removal As(V) by any of the technologies evaluated due to the negative charge. 

In September, 1993, EPA developed, with contractor support, a document entitled "Treatment and Occurrence-Arsenic in Potable Water Supplies". This document summarized the results of pilot-scale studies examining low-level arsenic removal, from 50 parts per billion (ppb or µg/L) down to 1 ppb or less. EPA convened a panel of outside experts in January 1994 to review this document and comment on the ability of the technologies to achieve maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) under consideration. Key findings of this report are summarized below. EPA is in the process of gathering new information with contractor support on the technologies to update the report since it has been four years when it was created. Stakeholders are welcomed to provide inputs to this process by sending information concerning technologies to remove arsenic from drinking water to Amit Kapadia, U. S. EPA, 401 M St SW (4607), Washington DC 20460. In a future stakeholders meeting EPA will inform stakeholders of new information from this effort. Information on prospective technologies were obtained from more recent studies and the results of the studies are also summarized below. 


The technologies under review perform most effectively when treating arsenic in the form of As(V). As (III) may be converted through pre-oxidation to As(V). Data on oxidants indicate that chlorine, ferric chloride, and potassium permanganate are effective in oxidizing As(III) to As(V). Pre-oxidation with chlorine may create undesirable concentrations of disinfection by-products. Ozone and hydrogen peroxide should oxidize As(III) to As(V), but no data are available on performance. 

Coagulation/Filtration (C/F), is an effective treatment process for removal of As(V) according to laboratory and pilot-plant tests. The type of coagulant and dosage used affects the efficiency of the process. Within either high or low pH ranges, the efficiency of C/F is significantly reduced. Alum performance is slightly lower than ferric sulfate. Other coagulants were also less effective than ferric sulfate. Disposal of the arsenic-contaminated coagulation sludge may be a concern especially if nearby landfills are unwilling to accept such a sludge. 

Lime Softening (LS) operated within the optimum pH range of greater than 10.5 is likely to provide a high percentage of As removal for influent concentrations of 50 µg/L. However, it may be difficult to reduce consistently to 1 µg/L by LS alone. Systems using LS may require secondary treatment to meet that goal. 

Activated Alumina(AA) is effective in treating water with high total dissolved solids (TDS). However, selenium, fluoride, chloride, and sulfate, if present at high levels, may compete for adsorption sites. AA is highly selective towards As(V); and this strong attraction results in regeneration problems, possibly resulting in 5 to 10 percent loss of adsorptive capacity for each run. Application of point-of-use treatment devices would need to consider regeneration and replacement. 

Ion Exchange (IE) can effectively remove arsenic. However, sulfate, TDS, selenium, fluoride, and nitrate compete with arsenic and can affect run length. Passage through a series of columns could improve removal and decrease regeneration frequency. Suspended solids and precipitated iron can cause clogging of the IE bed. Systems containing high levels of these constituents may require pretreatment. 

Reverse Osmosis (RO) provided removal efficiencies of greater than 95 percent when operating pressure is at ideal psi. If RO is used by small systems in the western U. S., 60% water recovery will lead to an increased need for raw water. The water recovery is the volume of water produced by the process divided by the influent stream (product water/influent stream). Discharge of reject water or brine may also be a concern. If RO is used by small systems in the western U. S., water recovery will likely need to be optimized due to the scarcity of water resources. The increased water recovery can lead to increased costs for arsenic removal. 

Electrodialysis Reversal (EDR) is expected to achieve removal efficiencies of 80 percent. One study demonstrated arsenic removal to 3 µg/L from an influent concentration of 21 µg/L. 

Nanofiltration (NF) was capable of arsenic removals of over 90%. The recoveries ranged between 15 to 20%. A recent study showed that the removal efficiency dropped significantly during pilot-scale tests where the process was operated at more realistic recoveries. If nanofiltration is used by small systems in the western U. S., water recovery will likely need to be optimized due to the scarcity of water resources. The increased water recovery can lead to increased costs for arsenic removal. 

Point of Use/Point of Entry (POU/POE)The 1996 SDWA amendments specifically identify Point-of-Use (POU) and Point-of-Entry (POE) devices as options that can be used for compliance with NPDWRs. POU and POE devices can be effective and affordable compliance options for small systems in meeting a new arsenic MCL. A Federal Register notice is being prepared by EPA to delete the prohibition {§141.101} on the use of POU devices as compliance technologies. Because of this prohibition, few field studies exist on the application of POU and POE devices. One such case study was performed by EPA, in conjunction with the Village of San Ysidro, in New Mexico (Rogers 1990). The study was performed to determine if POU Reverse Osmosis (RO) units could satisfactorily function in lieu of central treatment to remove arsenic and fluoride from the drinking water supply of a small rural community of approximately 200 people. A RO unit, a common type of POU device, is a membrane system that rejects compounds based on their molecular properties and characteristics of the reverse osmosis membrane. The RO units removed 86% of the total arsenic. 

Prospective Technologies

Ion Exchange with Brine Recycle. Research recently completed by the University of Houston (Clifford) at McFarland, CA and Albuquerque, NM has shown that ion exchange treatment can reduce arsenic (V) levels to below 2 µg/L even with sulfate levels as high as 200 mg/L. Sulfate does impact run length, however; the higher the sulfate concentration, the shorter the run length to arsenic breakthrough. The research also showed the brine regeneration solution could be reused as many as 20 times with no impact on arsenic removal provided that some salt was added to the solution to provide adequate chloride levels for regeneration. Brine recycle reduces the amount of waste for disposal and the cost of operation. 

Iron (Addition) Coagulation with Direct Filtration. The University of Houston (Clifford) recently completed pilot studies at Albuquerque, NM on iron addition (coagulation) followed by direct filtration (microfiltration system) resulting in arsenic (V) being consistently removed to below 2 µg/L. Critical operating parameters are iron dose, mixing energy, detention time, and pH. 

Conventional Iron/Manganese (Fe/Mn) Removal Processes. Iron coagulation/filtration and iron addition with direct filtration methods are effective for arsenic (V) removal. Source waters containing naturally occurring iron and/or manganese and arsenic can be treated for arsenic removal by using conventional Fe/Mn removal processes. These processes can significantly reduce the arsenic by removing the iron and manganese from the source water based upon the same mechanisms that occur with the iron addition methods. The addition of iron may be required if the concentration of naturally occurring iron/manganese is not sufficient to achieved the required arsenic removal level. 

EPA Research Activities

EPA' s Office of Research and Development(ORD) is in the process of funding three arsenic treatment research activities. First, a field study will be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of eight full scale drinking water treatment plants to remove arsenic from their source water on a sustained basis for six to twelve months. The processes included in this field study will be two large system technologies, conventional coagulation/ filtration, and lime softening, and two small system technologies, ion exchange and the iron/manganese, oxidation/filtration process. These evaluation studies will also include characterization and quantification of the residuals produced by each process. A second project will consist of laboratory and pilot plant studies to characterize the kinetics of oxidation of arsenic III to arsenic V by various oxidants and oxidation processes. And finally, a workgroup meeting is being planned for February, 1998 to review the state of the science of existing and developing drinking water treatment technologies effective for arsenic removal. Future work will entail additional full scale field studies on other small system treatment alternatives, such as activated alumina treatment, residuals characterization and management studies, and treatment cost and evaluation studies. 


Coagulation/Filtration and Lime Softening: 
  • Not appropriate for most small systems--high cost, need for well trained operators, and variability in process performance 
  • CF & LS alone may have difficultly consistently meeting a low-level MCL. IE may be useful as a polishing step. 
  • Disposal of sludge may be a problem
Activated Alumina: 
  • Lack of availability of F-1 alumina. Testing of substitute not yielding same results. 
  • Chemical handling requirements may make this process too complex and dangerous for many small systems 
  • AA may not be efficient in the long term, as it seems to lose significant adsorptive capacity with each regeneration cycle 
  • Highly concentrated waste streams-disposal of brine may be a problem 
Ion Exchange: 
  • Highly concentrated waste by-product stream- disposal of brine may be a problem. Brine recycling might reduce the impact. 
  • Sulfate levels affect run length 
  • Recommended as a BAT primarily for small, ground water systems with low sulfate and TDS and as the polishing step after filtration for low-level options 
Reverse Osmosis/Nanofiltration: 
  • Extensive corrosion control could be required for low-level option--ability to blend would be limited 
  • Water rejection (about 20-25 percent of influent) may be an issue in water-scarce regions 
Electrodialysis Reversal: 
  • Water rejection (about 20-25 percent of influent) may be an issue in water-scarce regions 
  • May not be competitive with respect to costs and process efficiency when compared with RO and NF, although it is easier to operate 
Point of Use/Point of Entry: 
  • Adopting a POU/POE treatment system in a small community requires more recordkeeping to monitor individual devices than does central treatment. 
  • POU/POE systems require special regulations regarding customer responsibilities, water utility responsibilities, and the requirement of installation of the devices in each home obtaining water from the utility. 
Waste Disposal: 

Disposal of the arsenic-contaminated coagulation sludge from the C/F and LS technologies may be a concern. For large treatment plants, a large body of water would likely be needed to discharge the contaminated brine stream from the RO/NF technologies. Inland treatment plants would possibly need either some pretreatment prior to discharge or would need to discharge to the sanitary sewer due to the increase in salinity. Discharge to sanitary sewers may require pretreatment to remove high arsenic levels. The waste stream produced by IE/AA technologies is a highly concentrated brine with high TDS. These brine streams may required some pretreatment prior to discharge to either a receiving body of water or the sanitary sewer. 


  • Are there other feasible candidates for treatment technologies for removal of arsenic from drinking water? 
  • What are the best technology options for small ground water systems? 
  • How cost effective and efficient are point-of-use and point-of-entry treatment units for arsenic? 
  • Are other field studies available on the application of POU or POE devices for arsenic removal? 
  • What new treatment technology performance data are available, especially for achieving arsenic concentrations in finished water below 5 µg/L?